Sean Penn yesterday offered up this blunt summation of the Republican presidential primary campaign: “The defecation on America.” Obviously there’s a much more polite way of saying someone is completely full of, ah, it, but his swipe, along with Hitler comparisons from Louis C.K. and Bill Maher, is as good an assessment as any of Liberal Hollywood’s mood as people from all sides of The Town’s political spectrum have let it sink in that Donald Trump is almost certainly going to be the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidate. And they’re freaking out.
Penn, who made news recently for his interview for Rolling Stone with cartel leader El Chapo, was speaking at the RSA computer security conference in San Francisco where he characteristically admitted to some deep cynicism about the state of American politics. When asked who he’s supporting in the election, he said half-seriously that the Republican debates are making him “nostalgic for George W. Bush,” before saying that perhaps his reaction isn’t taking into consideration “the true interests of my fellow Americans.”
“So many of them truly want to hate each other, want to bottom out their community so they can rise up in it, want to really devastate the rest of the world and maybe get into a civil war,” Penn said, adding that maybe he really ought to “consider Trump-Cruz” before clarifying that “I think Bernie Sanders is an exceptional American, and I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Penn is of course not alone in Hollywood’s Dump Trump party. As the former Apprentice host’s presidential ambitions have gone from “well, this is weird” to “waaaaiit, could this actually happen?” the last week has seen a slew of celebs and politicians getting in on the act in a possibly quixotic effort to derail Trump’s candidacy before the primary season ends. Last night for example, on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, the host spun a comedy bit from the recent allegation that Trump once kept a volume of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside. Maher jokingly claimed to have translated one of Hitler’s speeches into English: As old footage of the Fuher unspooled, Maher interpreted as “We’re gonna make Germany great again” and “Germany doesn’t win anymore” and “The Treaty of Versailles? A terrible deal!”
And this morning, Louis C.K. included a particularly heartfelt plea to his fans at the end of an email announcing the sixth episode of his internet series Horace and Pete, in which he said, straight up, “the guy is Hitler.” (Read the whole thing here.) C.K. was much more mindful of the wide variety of political views his fans may have, however, and rather than specifically urging them to vote (as he will) for the Democratic candidates, he asked instead that people “please stop it with voting for Trump.”
“It was funny for a little while. But the guy is Hitler. And by that I mean that we are being Germany in the 30s. Do you think they saw the shit coming? Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all,” C.K. said. “And I’m not advocating for Hillary or Bernie. I like them both but frankly I wish the next president was a conservative only because we had Obama for eight years and we need balance… But it only works if the conservatives put up a good candidate. A good smart conservative to face the liberal candidate so they can have a good argument and the country can decide which way to go this time.”
“Trump is not that. He’s an insane bigot. He is dangerous,” C.K. continued. Citing Trump’s promises to limit First Amendment rights and in particular the freedom of the press to criticize political figures, and his vow to make even his ostensible fellow Republicans “pay” for criticizing him, C.K. added that “I’m saying this now because if he gets in there we won’t be able to criticize him anymore.”
C.K. made direct parallels between the current political situation and that of 1930s Germany, and admitted “I’m an idiot and I’m sure a bunch of you are very annoyed by this. F***ing celebrity with an opinion,” adding that “I swear this isn’t really a political opinion.” He also acknowledged that Trump’s popularity is at least in part due to people making protest votes against the status quo. But he urged his fans to consider someone who isn’t just in it for himself. “Give him another TV show. Let him pay to put his name on buildings. But please stop voting for him. And please watch Horace and Pete.”
Penn, Maher and C.K. were of course preceded by Sacha Baron Cohen, who proved he’s practically psychic with his latest film, The Brothers Grimsby, which features a convoluted subplot in which Trump is metaphorically burned in effigy. (The film, which went into production in 2014, comes out just in time for Trump’s near ascension. Not bad timing, that.)
For his appearance at the U.S. Premiere on Thursday in Westwood, Cohen wore one of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” baseball caps. It paired well with his Grimsby costume, which included carrying around a plastic cup full of beer and waving around a prop gun, for a viciously on the nose parody of Trump’s tea party-esque following. “He’s a demagogue,” Cohen said that night, and the bashing didn’t stop until the end of the film when he used the disclaimer Columbia asked him to slap onto Grimsby‘s end credits, which clarified that Trump didn’t actually appear in the film, to wring out one more laugh at his expense.
But lest you think this is all just a bunch of liberals, The Republican debate on Thursday saw the debut of the GOP’s own half-hearted efforts to dump Trump. Preceded by several days of what amounted to polite contrition from debate host Fox news, the event itself turned out to be a full-on attack on the front-runner, with everything from his bad business decisions to – I am not making this up – his penis size made a subject of discussion.
Will the Trump backlash work? Probably not. His voters don’t give a damn what Hollywood liberals think, and as for the Republicans, as harsh as their attacks were during the debate, all of the remaining non-Trump candidates said during the debate that if he gets the nomination, they would vote for him. But it is entertaining. Appropriate for a political campaign dominated by a reality TV celebrity.